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USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) co-sponsored the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to fill a critical data gap and support research that informs policymaking on key national priorities, including health and obesity, hunger, and nutrition assistance policy. The survey captures unique and comprehensive data from a nationally representative sample about household food purchases and acquisitions, along with factors that influence household food choices. This page provides the following background information about the survey:

About the survey

FoodAPS is designed to support research about:

  • The interrelationships between American households’ food acquisitions, factors influencing food demand, and household well-being; and 
  • How access to food stores with a wide variety of healthy food offerings is related to food choices and measures of food security, health, and obesity.

FoodAPS captures detailed information about purchases and acquisitions of individual food items intended for consumption at home and away from home, as well as foods acquired through food and nutrition assistance programs. FoodAPS also provides information about how household food purchase decisions vary with the number and characteristics of people in the household, their available resources (including food and nutrition assistance program benefits, if any), and the array of food items and prices that are accessible to them.

The nationally representative sample of 4,826 households includes four distinct sub-groups, based on household income and reported participation in SNAP:

  • Households participating in SNAP,
  • Households with income below the poverty threshold that are eligible for SNAP but do not participate,
  • Households with income at or above 100 percent and less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold that are eligible for SNAP but do not participate, and
  • Households with income equal to or greater than 185 percent of the poverty threshold.

Mathematica Policy Research, a private research firm with experience conducting large-scale surveys, conducted the survey under contract to ERS. In the field, the survey was called the National Food Study for simplicity (see the Informational brochure 16x16 - PDF). Each household participated in the data collection activities for one week.

This is the first survey designed to provide a variety of policy-relevant information on household food purchases and acquisitions, thereby broadening the scope of economic analyses of food choices.

Key areas of policy research

FoodAPS data may be used to address the following questions/issues:

  • How do economic factors (such as prices and income) and demographic characteristics impact household food purchase decisions and the nutritional value of food acquisitions?
  • What is the influence of nutrition knowledge on food purchases and household food security?
  • How does participation in food and nutrition assistance programs influence food purchases and household food security?
  • How do economic and demographic factors, and food and nutrition assistance programs influence the ability of low-income households to consistently access sufficient food for active, healthy living?
  • How do access and retail outlet choice and location influence food purchases and the resulting nutritional quality of food acquisitions?

Data collection

FoodAPS collected information on all food acquisitions and purchases by all members of sampled households over a seven-day period. The survey was fielded between April 2012 and January 2013. 

The survey collected information about:

  • Quantities, prices, and expenditures for all at-home and away-from-home foods and beverages purchased and acquired from all sources by all household members;
  • Eating occasions by household members;
  • Household characteristics, including income, program participation, non-food expenditures, food security, health status, and diet and nutrition knowledge; and
  • Household access to food, including location of purchase and distance to food stores and restaurants.

Nutrient information about purchased food as well as local retail environmental information will be merged into the dataset based on scanned barcodes, product descriptions, and household locations.

For more details about the data collection efforts, see the Documentation

Geography component

To examine the influence of the local food environment on food acquisitions and purchases, FoodAPS added a geographic component to investigate how the local food environment affects food spending patterns in the United States. The FoodAPS Geography component (FoodAPS-GC) collected data on the local food environment in the 50 primary sampling units (PSUs) in the survey. These data include the location of different types of retailers, measures of access to these retailers, measures of food prices and prices of food categories by retailers, as well as information about socio-demographic and food-related policies.

Data releases

Restricted-use data files are being posted to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) Data Enclave. Please see the variable list for what is available at this time.

Plans are in development for creating and making available public use data files.

Recommended citation

Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) control number is 0536-0068, and the ICR reference number is 201112-0536-001.

Last updated: Tuesday, March 24, 2015

For more information contact: Elina Tselepidakis and John A. Kirlin